Four Seasons Wrap-Up
Mazda’s first CX-5 wowed us with its style and drivability. Did the secondgen model repeat the feat?
2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
DESPITE ALL THE wistful reminiscing about the demise of the Great American Station Wagon by enthusiasts too young to recall that vehicle’s midcentury heyday, truth be told, most of those wagons weren’t really all that special.
The average kids of the era were being shuttled about in quotidian land barges like the Ford Country Squire and Chrysler Town & Country. Few would have had any interaction with big-block-powered rarities like the Mercury Colony Park or Chevrolet Kingswood Estate, let alone an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with a stonking Rocket V-8 and slick glass roof, the Hurst four-on-the-floor jutting out in front of the bench seat.
Imagine now for a moment how today’s sport utility vehicles will be remembered some half-century hence. Ford Explorers and Jeep Grand Cherokees will be thought of as the Country Squires and T&Cs of the day, but thanks to the wealth of fire-breathing M- and AMG-badged monsters, 707-horse Trackhawks, and the like, the modern equivalent of the muscle-carera superwagon won’t be so rare. This leaves fun and engaging outliers like the Mazda CX-5, which lines up well with the Vista Cruiser.
Yes, we know, their powertrains are wildly different, but stay with us here. The new CX-5 has been styled to help it stand out in a veritable sea of look-alike crossovers, much like the Olds wagon did. And it has decent road manners and ride quality without trying to be a tall, five-seat MX-5 Miata, just as the Vista Cruiser wasn’t trying to be a family-size 4-4-2.
We actually had the past in mind when we chose to add a 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring to our Four Seasons fleet, though we weren’t thinking as much
of classic wagons as we were of the 2013 CX-5 we previously had in for a long-term evaluation. That first-gen CX-5 wowed us with how enjoyable it was to drive for a midsize crossover, and it never gave us a bit of trouble (though it spelled plenty for an unfortunate deer that it struck headon). We wanted to see if the second-generation CX-5 could repeat the feat.
One feat the midsize Mazda crossover has been pulling off almost singlehandedly is levitating the fortunes of the small, independent Japanese automaker. At one point during 2018, the CX-5 outsold Volkswagen’s Atlas, Tiguan, and Touareg combined. We don’t need to remind you that Mazda’s mainstream SUV sales help ensure a future for cars like the MX-5 Miata.
And although we adore the Miata, we’ve taken issue with it—and the CX-5—in the motivation department. The 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-four with 187 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque under the hood of the CX-5 sounds good on paper and likely offers more than adequate power for most of its intended customers. But we’re not most buyers. We wanted more go.
“Mazda is outperforming its competitors on every front when it comes to look and feel at a given price point,” senior editor Nelson Ireson says. “The only thing that’s not leading the game is powertrain tech, and that’s pretty obvious once you get behind the wheel.
“It’s not that it lacks power so much as it lacks low-end torque, requiring a good thrashing to make the hustle of a quick merger or short on-ramp,” Ireson continues. “That in turn means engine noise and vibration, which spoils the polished, controlled, sorted vibe found in every other aspect of the CX-5.”
Taking 8.6 seconds to 60 mph, the CX-5 gets up to speed acceptably, but as Ireson and others on staff found out, it lacks some giddyup in situations where you could use more of it.
“My biggest complaint is that the car’s dynamic proficiency highlights its lack of power, especially for passing on the freeway,” associate editor Billy Rehbock says.
Some editors yearned for the 250-hp 2.5-liter turbo-four from the CX-9, which was rumored for the 2019 CX-5. By last fall, Mazda was advertising the long-awaited 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D turbodiesel I-4 in the 2019 CX-5, though at press time, it was not giving out any details about the engine. In Europe, the Skyactiv-D is rated 173 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, but when Mazda nearly added that diesel to the 2018 CX-5, the EPA posted an unimpressive 27/30 mpg city/highway with all-wheel drive, and its debut was delayed again.
During our time with the CX-5, we recorded an average of 24.8 mpg, which limboed under the EPA’s 26 mpg combined figure. It’s not all that surprising considering how much we normally keep the hammer down around town—all in the name of evaluation, mind you.
“Could it use more power?” editor-in-chief Mike Floyd asks. “Of course, but then you start to sacrifice miles per gallon, and that’s a bad idea from a selling point perspective.”
Feelings throughout the staff were basically reversed when the subject turned to the CX-5’s dynamic chops. Some thought the 2017 was a bit softer than the first-gen model given its bigger dimensions and tuning that leans more toward the comfort end of the spectrum. However, the new CX-5 was lauded for its precise steering, which offers more feedback than most of its segment competitors, and for its overall poise on all manner of pavement.
Ireson sums up our thoughts well: “Ride quality is a careful balance of snappy handling and bumpy-road comfort.
The steering is the crossover equivalent of extremely sporty, which is to say, not like you’d find in a sports car but much closer to that ideal than the usual pile of mashed potatoes served to crossover drivers.”
The sentiment was much the same when the topic turned to the CX-5’s exterior style. Our test vehicle featured a killer Soul Red Metallic sheen and attractive 19-inch rims. Praise was nearly universal for the Mazda’s sheetmetal, a design that takes some chances but generally works instead of sticking out for the wrong reasons. It’s one of the key differentiators between the CX-5 and the rest of the midsize crossover crowd.
“Mazda continues to be at the forefront of design in the segment, and the new evolution of this design language is even cleaner,” associate editor Conner Golden says. “The CX-5 also looks a fair bit more expensive than it really is.”
That philosophy of premium feel at an affordable price point extends to the interior as well. Materials had a near luxury look to them yet weren’t so precious as to cause worry about the effects of the sort of family travel for which this two-row SUV is intended. Given that the comfortable seating was swathed in a bright “parchment” white, keeping it clean was a bit of an issue, but thanks to a proper detailing it looked pretty much as good as new when we turned the vehicle in.
It wasn’t all roses when the inside was mentioned. The familiar Mazda family of controls, including the rotary center dial that scrolls through audio, navigation, and other functions, received mixed reviews. “There are some wonky things about the rotary dial setup,” Floyd says. “But it works. The [7.0-inch] screen is a bit small given the competitive set.”
At least one editor was unimpressed by the tiny sunroof. But for just north of $34,000 all in, the Grand Touring
“COULD IT USE MORE POWER? OF COURSE, BUT THEN YOU START TO SACRIFICE MILES PER GALLON, AND THAT’S A BAD IDEA FROM A SELLING POINT PERSPECTIVE.” EDITOR-IN-CHIEF MIKE FLOYD
model was praised for its generous list of standard equipment and impressive suite of safety tech. Floyd was “impressed with the full-stop adaptive cruise control, and the head-up display also has a blind-spot warning that’s pretty cool-looking.”
The L.A. staff mostly used the CX-5 as a daily commuter, on weekend errand runs, and for the occasional short trip, but it got a cross-country workout thanks to yours truly, who drove it north by northeast, through Reno, Nevada, and on to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, before heading back to the Motor City.
Once there, the Mazda CX-5 often had its back seat folded, with sheets, blankets, and doggy beds protecting the interior from a surfeit of collie hair. (There were frequent stops at powerful car wash vacuum stations.) My wife and I also used it to help relay an adopted dog to his new owner. Thanks to the CX-5 and Above and Beyond Transport, an English setter named Murphy had a comfortable ride from Detroit to Marine City, Michigan, his last 50 miles of a journey that began in Goochland, Virginia. We also used the vehicle for a couple of 360-mile round trips to our “Up North” cabin with our three rough collies.
During its 19,000-plus-mile stay in our care, the CX-5 proved absolutely trouble-free, with the only maintenance being a few oil changes and switching on and off a set of Bridgestone Blizzak winter rubber that we sourced from our friends at Tire Rack.
Rehbock nailed the team’s thoughts on our overall experience with the 2017 Mazda CX-5. “Perhaps no other affordable crossover fulfills our magazine’s mantra of ‘No Boring Cars,’” he says. “The CX-5 was never a punishment to drive. It boasts precise steering, well-tuned suspension, and good throttle response. I liked Mazda’s easy-to-navigate infotainment system. The white leather seats were comfortable, supportive, and stylish. The metallic red paint is one of the best colors on sale, and it’s a shame more cars don’t wear it.”
Chalk up at least one young enthusiast who will have fond memories of this family wagon some four or five decades hence. AM
In a sea of look-alike compact SUVs, Mazda’s CX-5 stands out. And it works: Healthy sales of the brand’s most popularmodel will help finance development of the Miata.
OUR 2017 MAZDA CX-5 GRAND TOURING
AWD plus a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks (right) made a winter’s drive from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, (above) to Detroit a cakewalk. Upper right: Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.Lower right: Django’s fur prompted many visits to car wash vacuums.